Ellen Bruno has spent almost 20 years making films about chaos and renewal in Southeast Asia, all rarely seen. Playing for one week at New York City’s Film Forum, a program of three films by the documentary filmmaker lays bare her ballsy humanitarianism but exposes her sketchy lyricism. The 50-minute Sacrifice, about young girls who are recruited from Burmese villages and sent to work as prostitutes in Thailand, is the program’s strenuously poeticized headliner. Bruno’s subjects have horrible tales to relate (one recalls the john who suckled milk from her breasts days after a desperate abortion), but their pain is undermined by the director’s embellishments, including movements in slow motion and detached English-language narration by Yiga Josayma, who assumes the point of view of a young prostitute throughout. Less fussy is 2005’s Leper, about a society of lepers in a remote village in Nepal. With great reverence, Bruno reveals to us how a group of outcasts set out to redefine the notion of beauty away from the “healthy” outside world that scoffed at their physical deformations. Most striking, though, is the 12-minute Sky Burial, also from 2005. In a northern Tibetan monastery, Bruno observes the ritual by which Drigung lamas help the dead negotiate the bardo between death and rebirth. Like Sacrifice, the short begins with the shot of the sky, only here it makes sense given the sacred context. The film ends with the first great image of the new year: villagers keeping an army of hungry vultures at bay while the bodies of the dead are cut to pieces, their bones crushed and roasted. A primal ritual, yes, but Bruno scavenges for and locates its holy import.
- 87 min
- 1998 - 2005
- Ellen Bruno
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: